I think it is important that you transfer your ‘face-to-face’ presence in the classroom to the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) so children are automatically familiar and comfortable with the new environment. Children also need to realise that the VLE has important factors, such as school work, which are just as important to the real life factors children encounter at school, and children will be able to see this from the ‘online presence’ they feel on the VLE.
I also agree with the fact that at the start of the school year, teachers introduce the VLE and encourage children to use it for various reasons, such as asking questions, making social arrangements and posting on the discussion boards. I believe that it is vital that children begin to use it straight away so that they use the VLE as part of their routine and carry on to use it throughout the rest of the school year.
I believe that if a teacher is to introduce a VLE to the classroom, they should make it compulsory, at least for the first few weeks, so that all children participate. If teachers implement this sort of strategy then the benefits of the VLE will not be ‘lost’. However, I do understand that some children may not have access to the internet at home, therefore giving time to these children to access the VLE during school hours is essential.
Unfortunately I do not agree with setting up specific times for children to access the VLE to have discussions on particular topics with each other. This is because some children may not have access to the VLE at those particular times set, and I think it would be easier to just allow children to talk freely about certain topics via the normal chat room on the VLE.
As a teacher, I would ask the children to give their opinion on whether they would like me to join in with the discussions on the VLE or to not interact at all, unless they are asking me a direct question or there are inappropriate discussions occurring which are not suitable for the VLE.
Unfortunately I have had no experience with using online learning communities neither in primary school nor secondary school (at least that I can remember!) However, since starting at the University of Roehampton I have had access to online learning communities such as Moodle, Blogfolio and Fronter which I believe have benefited my experience so far at University. However, I can fault all three of these online learning communities for the fact that I do not think that any three of them have an online chat forum or a place for students to talk to each other if they wanted to. Blogfolio allows students to post blogs and write comments on other pupils’ blogs but these are used for educational purposes and not if you just wanted a chat or some support for something. If I wanted to discuss things or have a chat with other Roehampton students I would go onto my Roehampton group’s Facebook page (before I deactivated my Facebook), which is another example of an online community, and I would talk to them on there if I needed help with anything. I found this very useful as it is an online community set up by a member of my group, and everyone in my group who has Facebook has access to it. We can share information about different aspects of the course and we are able to communicate with and support each other. The Moodle page is very helpful as it provides students with information about the course, the PowerPoint slides to the sessions and resources to use for assignments and follow up activities. I wish I had more experience of using an online learning community whilst I was in primary school because I would then have more knowledge and ideas for the one I am creating now.